Sneaky, sneaky Mr Cameron. Thought you could get it through when no-one was looking eh? Tut, tut, shame on you.
“Get what through?” I hear you ask. “What have I missed?”
Well, whilst everyone has been caught up with the ever evolving situation in Syria and the heavily contested vote in the House of Commons this week, the Government has manage to get away, almost unnoticed, with cutting the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), a fund that was designed to help disabled higher education students with the additional costs they face at University due to their impairments.
Currently, DSA can help disabled students pay for things such as specialist equipment, for example, scanners and voice recognition software, and for non-medical personal support such as British Sign Language interpreters, readers for visually impaired students and note-takers. The Government is now saying that, from September 2016, Universities will have to fund non-medical staff themselves and that funding for specialist equipment and accommodation will also be reduced.
Great. Having told us that the way forward for young people in this country is ‘Education, education, education’, Cameron and Co are obviously now saying that this mantra does not apply to disabled students and that they will not be helped to obtain the same level of education as their non-disabled compatriots. Sure, the Government aren’t saying disabled students will not be helped, just that it’s going to be more difficult for us to continue into higher education if the Universities have to cover the costs of disabled students as well as pay for all the other things they have to pay for.
Of course, I’m not saying that universities cannot do this, it’s just that, as someone who has experienced some of the so-called help a University can sort out for a disabled person when left to their own devices, I have little faith in the ability of many higher education institutions to manage to do this successfully. I only got through my Post-Graduate qualification thanks to the help of my fellow students in ensuring I had the assistance and access I required, not due to the efforts of the University to cater for my disability related needs. When you find can’t even get into your University building for lectures without making sure that your friends will be there to open the door for you, you almost give up before you start. When you are awarded extenuating circumstances for all your first year exams due to the unholy mess the University made in ensuring you were able to access the examination room at all, you start to lose the will to live. When one of your finals. scheduled for two hours, takes nearly five hours because the University could even ensure that you were given the right papers once they had found the keys to the room they had assigned to you, you will understand what I mean.
And then there are the other implications this decision will bring. If DSA is abolished, and responsibility for catering or the needs of disabled students is transferred to the Universities themselves, then those institutions will have to ensure that they have a section in their prospectuses and on their websites which details what help they can provide. Disabled students will need to be able to consider where is the most suitable place to study depending not just on the subject they want to study but on the help they will get based on their own individual needs. Secondary schools and Career Advice Services will have to consider adding details of any schemes run by Universities especially for disabled students on their websites and in staff training too.
Whatever happens, disabled students themselves will have to ensure they keep up pressure on all the institutions so that our needs are not forgotten or dismissed as being too expensive or too difficult to bother with. Disabled people have the same right as everyone else to continue with their studies as far as they want, need and are able to do so.
How many more restrictions must disabled people face to their life chances? Cutting access to the Disabled Students Allowance is a retrograde step and must be resisted. If we want the brightest and best of our young people to lead us in the future, let that be the brightest and best of all young people, not just those who do not experience the restrictions disability can bring. Don’t stifle our ambition from the outset by restricting our access to higher education because of our disabilities, instead, encourage our aspirations based on our abilities. Give us a chance to succeed, you won’t regret it.